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A Menu of Reference Models for the Academic Library

February 13, 2012

This post from the Chronicle of Higher Education Blog discusses the newest in a continually increasing menu of reference models that librarians can choose to employ, either as supplement to, or replacement of, the traditional information desk or “counter service” model (to use the dining service metaphors that author Brian Mathews seems fond of in his blog entry).  This newest reference model would allow patrons in the library to send a signal to the librarian on duty that they need assistance, much as diners in a Brazilian restaurant signal their waiters to bring them more food! This model could perhaps be implement with a small chat or call button loaded onto all library computers.  The librarian would receive the signal and then go to the patron, rather than having the patron come to them! Mathews hypothesizes some challenges that this model could pose to librarians and library service in his blog entry. However, he is also optimistic about the impact that this model could have on students: “In fact it might actually be more intuitive and comfortable to them [students] than approaching a desk. It gives them control, instead of us.”

Let us know what you think!!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2012 4:13 pm

    This is a very interesting concept, especially since we understand space is at a premium in most libraries and once students find a spot, especially if it’s a spot that allows them to plug in their wireless devices, they don’t want to move. And understandably that’s why chat services are available and telephone reference is always an option, and that’s why the roving librarian concept was experimented with at my undergraduate institution. I never thought of the roving librarian concept in terms of the waiter/waitress who intrudes. I come from a tutoring background where students are often reluctant to ask for help unless they actually see a tutor circulating around the center and have someone checking in on assignments. But helping with homework assignments is not always the same as helping someone with research, and since the library is becoming more of a social space where people visit to do so much more than just research, perhaps the roving librarian can be intrusive, or even a waste of time if a librarian is spending all of his/her time walking around and no one is accepting help. This new service that Mathews suggests could be a great way to be there at the point of need rather than making the students feel like we’re intruding, or roving to different areas of the library when the patron who now needs help could be in an area you just went to and won’t be back to for another 10 minutes. I see how this could be implemented fairly easily if the technology was there to have a call button and the librarians, or someone, diligently monitored the call button so that requests for help are responded to in a timely manner, and as long as there’s a way to respond to the person requesting help to let that person know someone is on the way or to give an estimated wait time if there is only one librarian answering calls at a time. Of course like any model it depends on your patrons, your set up, your staffing, but as we move away from traditional models and try to accommodate new learning styles, I think it’s important to at least investigate different services that allow you to be available at the point of need while also being productive throughout the day. I would love to see this in action at a library and to hear student responses.

  2. Linda Neyer permalink
    March 16, 2012 10:45 pm

    We are having discussions of different models for providing reference at our library, too. We’re reading an article “No Longer the Sacred Cow – No Longer a Desk: Transforming Reference Service to Meet 21st Century User Needs” ( I find their discussion of ‘on call’ reference services intriguing. Not sure of the logistics, but maybe you could have a chat window open on your web page that advertised the service, and the on-call person could use a laptop or iPad to respond to questions and/or make arrangements to meet people where it was convenient.

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